RIIFF 2008 Team
Interview with Executive Director George
(questions submitted by Rhode Island artist, actor and director, T.J. Paolino)
What is your favorite part of working at The Rhode Island International Film Festival?
Simply, the freedom to create and share my dreams with others. The excitement of being able to make something tangible out of an idea is very fulfilling. Plus, having others accept and buy into my dreams is heartening and inspiring.
How is RIIFF different than other festivals?
Of course, the answer is totally subjective, but RIIFF prides itself in being a filmmaker friendly festival. 90% of our programming is made up of from films submitted to the festival. There is enormous heart within the festival and that becomes apparent to anyone who works with us. Yes, we have professional accolades from the association with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), but our biggest and most important difference centers in the people who make this event a reality.
What about RIIFF are you proudest of?
The fact that we’ve grown in the last 11 years as a leading international event and are recognized as such is a great source of pride. We have done this against great odds and yet we have accomplished something rather amazing while still retaining our vision, integrity and soul. A leading world film festival in Rhode Island is not something many people thought could ever happen; yet it did and RIIFF is now a major portal for international filmmakers. This year we had 2,491 entries which speaks form itself.
What drives you as you go from year to year? What would you like to see happen with RIIFF?
Both of my parents where major supporters of the Festival. Throughout my life they both inspired me and always pushed me to pursue my dreams. They very much believed that you could be anything you wanted to be if you put your heart into it. I learned a great deal from my parents and the one lesson that has become part of my core is that one should always respect others; never assume anything and strive to bring some kindness into what has increasing become a hostile world.
What kind of feedback have you received from your ScriptBiz participants?
The program has grown and matured over the years. It has evolved thanks to the positive and constructive feedback we’ve received. This is true for everything the RIIFF does. It would be nice to tell you that we are all geniuses and that we know all the answers. That would be nice, but it’s not true. Life is about learning and RIIFF has made it part of its mission to constantly seek input to improve with a goal of being the best that we can be. We have a long history of seeking audience and participant feedback. What we have created is for them anyway, so it is important to seek to continually improve. This does seem to work as we’ve had many folks who return year after year.
To what do you attribute the rise in RIIFF submissions?
What's been your biggest challenge in working in the state of Rhode Island?
Actually, working in the Ocean State is an asset, not a challenge. It’s small enough where everyone knows each other and where else can you run a statewide festival?
What consistent feedback do you hear about RIIFF?
That our staff is always hospitable and the festival experience was a positive one. Additionally, we hear that RIIFF opened doors to distribution. We’ve learned that having the Festival credential is very significant within the industry.
Is there a genre that RIIFF selections tend toward?
It actually varies from year to year. This year we are heavy with documentaries. Last year it was animations. The year before it was shorts. This year we have also received a record number of entries from Spain—and that’s a first.
What advice would you feel is important for interested filmmakers to know prior to submitting?
Take Speilberg’s words to heart: always be prepared to cut what you love. Editing is an issue with first time filmmakers who cannot pull themselves away from what they’ve created and achieve a detached perspective. Many projets could be tightened and improved. We actually are screening three works in progress this festival with one key purpose in mind: to get audience feedback to help the filmmaker see the work through a different set of eyes.
From what country was the first RIIFF international submission received from?
Canada—the Province of Québec specifically.
How many employees do you have at RIIFF? How many volunteers? How do these numbers change during the festival itself?
I am very proud to note that we have four folks who work with the Festival throughout the year, plus two part-time staff. We also have interns and a large volunteer base. When a Festival takes place, we bring on about 75 volunteers. We actually have a much larger pool from which to choose, but we are so used to running lean, that we only assign people to projects that we need completed.
The "Adopt-a-Film Challenge" is an amazing idea. What kind of results have you seen in its 5 year existence?
Thanks. We’ve seen quite a bit of exciting results. Many non-profits have made money they would not have had and groups like “Make a Wish” fulfill their purpose and remind folks about the good works they undertake. In five years we’ve probably worked with about 60 different groups, from DARE, AIDS Care Ocean State, Waterfire, Amos House, etc. It’s been diverse and that also fulfills our mission. (Editor's Note: To see a list of these non-profits, click here.)
How is the new interactive web blog from festival partner, www.moli.com, coming along?
It’s been a very successful experiment that we are going to repeat. This year we had 23 entries and the top winner receives $1000.
How many different states are represented? How many feature length films? Shorts? Documentaries? Animated films?
Ah, the stats: 70 countries; 34 states; 6 Provinces in Canada; 49 features, 39 feature docs; 320 films to be screened in 6 days; 125 World Premieres, 36 US Premieres…
Where do you see the film business in Rhode Island going?
It will continue to grow as we build an infrastructure, which is the key to its survival. NE states are already competing with tax credits. In the end, I think we need to have a regional-wide collaboration in order to make sure that work is spread around and that all of our local industry folks get work.
What can one person do to support RIIFF during the year?
Volunteer, be a community host, join our membership, be a judge, or make a donation, which is always appreciated,
Have you ever had a film from a Kids Eye alumnus accepted into the festival?
Still early considering the ages here and the 9 years of KidsEye—but yes: Joseph Procopio from Toronto who is now 12. I believe we’ve screened 4 of his films over the years—and these have played SXSW, Sprockets, and the Chicago Chiildren’s Film Festival.